About 40 per cent villages in India are still awaiting electrification. It is a pathetic situation for an emerging super power, which has been blessed with immense resources by the Nature. With around 300 clear, sunny days in an year, our theoretical solar power reception is about 5000 Petawatt-hours per year, which is far more than the current total energy consumption. But we have been reluctant to tap this energy. The people too do not think of taking any initiative beyond the government dependence. But the people of Darewadi village under Pune in Maharashtra did a miracle on this front and now they enjoy round the clock ‘power supply’. It is a precedent, which, if followed seriously, can change the entire matrix of the country.
How the life without electricity is needs no elaboration, as everybody of us living in urban areas is aware of it. But think of the people of 40 per cent villages in the country where there is no electric pole even after 65 years of Independence. The government agencies have so many excuses to hide their failures, but the people in these villages also normally don’t think beyond government help. But the people in Darewadi village of Pune district did it, and now they have round the clock power supply at the cheapest rate.
Till last year, Darewadi was like any other backward village of India waiting for government agencies to provide electricity. The sunset imposed a kind of curfew in this forested and hilly terrain. Little work was done in the fields for fear of wild boars, snakes and leopards. The villagers had to walk 3 km to the nearest electrified point just to charge their mobile phones. But today the entire picture has changed. The village has round the clock power supply. Children study in the evening and women move around freely without fear. They can even operate flour mills and water pumps. It is all for Rs 130 per month only.
The miracle has been caused by solar energy, which the villagers adopted last year. Now they might not have electricity connection, but they are the ‘owner’ of a complete powerhouse. The village, with about 250 population and around 40 families, is situated about 3 km from the road. It is about 37 km from Pune under Junnar tehsil. Darewadi may not be the first village of India to use solar power, but the specialty of this village is that it is the only village of the country where the solar power plant is run with the investment of the villagers. The villagers have invested Rs 40,000 in this project. The contribution may be small, but it made them ‘owners’ and not just the ‘consumers’.
The story of change began when the activists of the Gram Urja reached the village a few years back. The people in the village had almost lost all hopes that they would one day enjoy electricity. When the Gram Urja activists told them to become ‘owner of a powerhouse’, they could not believe. That is why majority of them did not trust them. But after some time some villagers displayed the courage and persuaded others also to join them. They formed Van Dev Gramodyog Trust and elected Lahu Borhade as its chairman. The seven member committee has four men and three women. The committee has owned the responsibility of running the plant for 25 years. “When the villagers agreed, we sought the help of German company Bosch in this project. They agreed as they were also searching any trusted aid for a pilot project,” says Shri Prasad Kulkarni of Gram Urja. Similarly, Shivaji Shelake of the village provided 200 sq. mt. piece of land for the project. Gram Urja provided technical support while the Bosch Solar provided the monitory help of Rs 30 lakh. That is how the work began.
Finally, the project was inaugurated on July 20, 2012 by the youngest girl of the village, Sakshi Borhade. As a result the use of kerosene has become a matter of past here. The LED bulbs installed on different poles throughout the village keep it shining even at night. The students can study till any time at night and television can also be watched any time. The village committee is going to start computer education in the village.
The village committee has also made foolproof arrangements that every house pays the bill before 5th of every month. The committee has an account in the local bank, where the entire money is deposited. According to Shri Lahu Borhade, a total of 39 solar panels have been installed to produce 10 kw power. “We have compromised on many small things that urban people avail of very easily due to access to electricity. Now, I’m extremely happy and I feel that my decision to marry Anil was right, after two dark years,” says Vijaya Borhade of the village. For Bhimabai Borhade the biggest benefit of the light is that now “fear of wild boars and snakes is minimised”. Raghunath Borhade is happy that now younger generation can study in electric light.
Currently, about 60 per cent villages in the country have been electrified with a further goal of providing complete electrification by 2025. The northern and north-eastern states are lagging behind the national average, bringing the numbers down, primarily due to inefficient state governments and lack of economic resources.
Naturally, lack of electricity infrastructure is one of the main hurdles in the development of rural India. Our grid system is considerably under-developed, with major sections of its populace still surviving off-grid. Developments in cheap solar technology are considered as a potential alternative that allows an electricity infrastructure consisting of a network of local-grid clusters with distributed electricity generation.